This September was the month of Herbie. Herbie was the biggest American elm (Ulmus americana) in all of New England. The tree sprouted in 1794, which was during George Washington’s second administration. Frank Knight, the Yarmouth, ME tree warden, had kept Herbie fairly healthy for almost 50 years. In 2010, the tree as beyond saving, and had to be cut down. Some of the branches were over 4′ thick (1.22 m), and the trunk was over 10′ long (3 m) and roughly 7′ (2.1 m) at the butt end. I joined the Herbie committee and suggested that we distribute the wood to craftspeople throughout Maine. During the next 9 months the branches were cut up, and the trunk was sawn and the boards were kiln dried, and the wood was distributed to woodworkers throughout the state. They made chairs, benches, birds, baseball bats, cabinets, desks, tables, music stands, hundreds of bowls, pens, a coffin, sculptures, cutting boards, and even an electric guitar. In November of 2010, we held and auction of the items, and the Yarmouth Tree Trust grossed over $80,000., and cleared roughly $49, 000., making Herbie the most valuable tree ever cut in Maine. The Lucas mill cut the trunk into hundreds of boards, but couldn’t go low enough to slice the last 4″ (10 cm) at the center of the tree. We were left with a slab 59″ wide (1.5 m) and 118″ long (3 m). Nobody wanted that huge, heavy piece. We had it re-sawn a year later and stored it in a heated warehouse. Recently, someone bought the two slabs, to be made into table tops. They had shrunk down to 52″ (1.3 m).
The re-sawing operation left both slabs roughly 1 1/4″ (3.18 cm) at one end and almost 2 1/2″ (6.4 cm) at the other. How to flatten them was a problem. I tried a router jig, but found that a) I couldn’t reach across the jig and the full width of the board, b) my back couldn’t take it, and c) flattening both sides of two slabs would take days, routing 1/4″ (6.4 mm) at a time. We ended up taking the slabs to Westbrook, ME to a big shop with a 54″ (1.37 m) wide belt sander. Let me tell you those slab were heavy! Even with a 50 grit belt, we could only take off 1/2 mm at a time. Do the math… it took about 70 passes for each slab. Six hours the first day, then another hour the second day. This is what they looked like back at the shop, leaning against my bench:
I had to get a neighbor to help me heft them onto sawhorses. First I used my jig saw to cut curves into all four sides, then a belt sander to fair the edges. I lined up my Lie-Nielsen planes across the width, #62, #5, and #7, for a full 50″ (1.27 m) width at the center.Both slabs had bark inclusions near one end, where the trunk began to branch out. Those voids were roughly 3″ wide (17.8 cm) and about 36″ long (94 cm). I tied them together with walnut butterflies, 3 each, half the thickness of the tops. The bulk was routed out, then chiseled.Calling the neighbor again, we flipped them over, and I routed out for small strips, and made them flush with the bottom of the slab. This added a little more strength and divided each void into 4 areas per slab, later to be filled with clear epoxy. But first, they had to be hauled off to the finisher for two coats of satin conversion varnish. Here is what they looked like before they left.It took the better part of a day to finish sanding, and breaking all the edges and corners. While the tops are being finished, stainless steel bases are being fabricated. I’ll keep you posted.
On a lighter note, we had a chance to see Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally while they were in Portland. Their two person play was lewd and severely hilarious. Afterwards, Nick gifted me with a bottle of Oban and Lagavulin, tasty, top of the line single malt Scotch. Just right for my smallest wall cabinet (this one made of the Elder Joseph Brackett maple from the Sabbathday Lake Shaker community).
Don’t forget the Open House October 1 & 2. It’s Maine Crafts Weekend. Stop by to chat if you’re in the area.
Thought for September: A friend is someone I have a lasting, enjoyable human interaction with, not someone who clicks a button on a mega-corporate web site. — C.H. Becksvoort © 2016